Recently I conducted an interview with Brian Johnson, CEO of the networking site Zaadz.com, which is all about spreading understanding, spiritual awareness and inspiration through its fast-growing network of socially conscious people.
The mission of Zaadz (which means "seed" in Dutch) is to change the world. In the same way tiny seeds grow and develop into something much greater, Zaadz is founded on the belief that, like those small seeds, inside each of us lives that same immense power and potential.
Johnson explains at Zaadz.com: "Our math goes like this: you be the change + you follow your bliss + you give your greatest strengths to the world moment to moment to moment + we do everything in our power to help you succeed + you inspire and empower everyone you know to do the same + we team up with millions like us = we just affected billions = we (together) changed the world…Imagine social networking with a purpose, a community of seekers and conscious entrepreneurs circulating wisdom and inspiration and wealth and all that good stuff."
The following is our conversation.
What exactly is Zaadz.com, and where did your idea for the site come from?
Brian Johnson: Zaadz.com is an online community that inspires and empowers people to live at their highest potential and change the world in the process.
A lot of people call us "MySpace for spiritual people" or "MySpace for people who care about life and making a difference" or even "MySpace for smart people."
Although we’ll discuss the details in a bit, that’s the easiest way to describe what we’re up to.
Where did the idea for the site come from? That’s part of a pretty long story, but the short version goes something like this:
My co-founder, Aaron Eisenberger, and I have always been passionate about two things: understanding life’s greatest truths and building businesses that can make a difference in the world. In our past lives, we started a company called eteamz.com, which now serves more than 2.5 million teams involved in amateur sports like Little League Baseball and AYSO soccer – providing websites where team moms can put up schedules, directions to the game, pictures Grandma and Grandpa can check out if they couldn’t make the game and stuff like that.
We went through the dot.com era as young entrepreneurs and were fortunate enough to sell our business and have enough to take a couple years to figure out what we’re here to do. We each immersed ourselves in our own spiritual pursuit – Aaron studying energy, yoga and shamanism, while I studied philosophy and psychology and optimal living. We’ve been playing around with the idea of building a community for people passionate about life for years, and Zaadz is the perfect integration of our dual passions and our commitment to use our greatest strengths in the greatest service to the world.
Explain the Zaadz mission and, specifically, what sets Zaadz apart from all those other interactive websites out there?
BJ: Our mission is pretty straightforward: We’re committed to changing the world. We believe in Gandhi’s wisdom that if we want to make a difference, first we must be the change we want to see. Everything we do and every tool we build on the site has this in mind.
Explain the significance of naming Zaadz, a socially conscious community, after a seed. What’s the correlation between seeds and Zaadz?
BJ: Zaad is Dutch for "seed." I’m blown away by the potential within a tiny seed – that ineffable force that’s driving it to become what it’s here to become. We think that’s the perfect metaphor for each of us, and we’re committed to creating a company that supports individuals in the process of their own actualization.
And, we kinda like the way Zaadz sounds (pronounced zahhhdz). Hence, the name.
How long has Zaadz.com been in existence?
BJ: Zaadz pre-beta went live in December 2005.
How many Zaadzsters are there currently? What’s the growth been like since the site’s inception?
BJ: We’ve been growing at about 25-40 percent a month, are approaching 20,000 members and have more than 1 million visits to the site a month.
We’re an invite-only site (meaning you either need to be invited by an existing member or fill out a quick form to get an invite from us) and are much (much!) more concerned about who is joining our site in the early days than how many people are joining.
We take our commitment to create an oasis pretty seriously. There are too few places where we can go in the world and know that our wildest dreams and highest selves will be respected. We’re creating one. Unfortunately, most social networking sites (or any online community for that matter) can quickly atrophy into a Jerry Springer show – no matter the intention behind it. So, we’re making our intention very clear by controlling growth in the early days to ensure we have a powerful foundation upon which to build in 2007.
Describe Zaadz’s various facets, such as zPages, pods, zEvents, zQuotes, zBooks, zBookmarks, etc. What’s the purpose behind them?
BJ: Again, the purpose behind all the features of our site is to inspire and empower people to live at their highest potential. It’s with this intention that we built the stuff you listed above:
i zPages: Imagine a local, "Conscious" Yellow Pages – a place where you can find all the individuals in the business of helping you optimize your life (from life coaches to acupuncturists to therapists), as well as general businesses that share your values (from a plumber who goes to your yoga studio or the accountant who eats at your favorite vegan restaurant). We think it’s time to circulate wealth consciously as conscious participants in our economy. We’ll be addressing both sides of the "Conscious Capitalism" equation: how we earn our money and how we spend our money. How? Easy.
On the earning side of the equation: I’m a life coach. Where do I advertise my services? Maybe I put my flyers up at local veggie restaurants and community centers, and email my friends to let them know what I’m up to. But it’s time- and cost-prohibitive (and simply ineffective) for most life coaches to actively market online, because there isn’t one place people go to find this type of info. With Zaadz.com, we’ll be able to provide them with a perfectly focused audience and a cost-effective advertising opportunity to promote their business.
The same rules apply for the chiropractor, massage therapist, Reiki worker, acupuncturist, spiritual tattoo artist and the accountant and plumber and dentist and house cleaner who’s doing business in a conscious manner and looking for clients who share his values.
On the spending side of things: I’m looking for a life coach or massage therapist or acupuncturist or organic house cleaner or, in my case, at the moment, a conscious tattoo artist. Where do I go to find them? The first step is to ask a friend. Beyond that, it’s tough. I’m not likely to scavenge business cards at the hot spots, nor am I likely to find a great resource through a random Google search.
We’re going to make that easy. Search by category and region/zip code and through your social network. So, for example, you can see who your yoga teacher goes to for massage or acupuncture or that sexy tattoo on her lower back.
Philosophically and practically, this is going to be one of the most powerful things we do. When we consciously circulate our wealth, we’re voting with every dollar we spend and supporting our community to live with more abundance and be in a position to then further support other businesses who get it. If I have a choice of opening the yellow pages to find a plumber or going online to Zaadz to find a conscious plumber who also does yoga, I’ll take the conscious route every time. This is subtle, but VERY powerful.
i Pods: The pods are kinda like Yahoo Groups! – a cool set of tools that allow group discussions around topics ranging from Buddhism to parenting to going vegetarian. We have more than 1,200 different group discussions on an amazing array of subjects. Fun stuff.
i zEvents: Why isn’t there a place where you can go to find the location for everything from the upcoming Earth Day celebration to a goal setting workshop or the yoga class tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.? We can’t figure it out either. We’re fired up to bring that to the world. Any event organizer can enter an upcoming event, which automatically gets posted to our site and is searchable by category and location. We’re building the tools so we can process registration online and integrate the attendees of the event into a virtual community before they even go to the event – and then be able to stay in touch to share the lessons learned and all that good stuff.
i zQuotes: I love quotes. We have about 45,000 of them, on everything from art to zen. You can search by topic and author and get a dose of inspiration. You can even add your favorite quotes to our site and create your own personal collection.
i zBooks: We’ll be launching powerful self-development tools that will help our members discover their purpose, understand which areas of their life they want to focus on developing, set goals and build habits to live at their highest potential and "be the change!"
One of the first tools we launched was our "favorite books" tool. Our members can enter their favorite books by category – from Buddhism and meditation to business and time management to good ol’ beach reading! We can capture our favorite books, tell people why it made the list, add our favorite quotes, comments on what we learned and all that good stuff – all with collaborative tools so we can chat with others who love the book about why they dig it. Then we can all check out the most popular books and get a sense of what we’d like to learn next. The aggregate wisdom and inspiration from this is going to be staggering.
Along the same lines of the books tools, we’re going to empower our members to write articles and share them with our community. We’ll aggregate the wisdom of our members on everything from integral theory to nutrition to meditation and financial planning. It’s gonna be cool.
This is really only the beginning. We’re going to be rolling out some really cool tools to empower professionals in the business of empowering people – from newsletters to registration processing. These are really going to energize our vision. So keep checking back!
What are the benefits of being a Zaadzster? What can members expect to gain, learn, experience, etc. from the community?
BJ: The biggest thing we hear from our members is the sense of being "home" and gratitude for helping them finally find a group of smart, kind, passionate people who are crazy enough to think we can make a difference.
In addition to the stuff we talked about above, we also facilitate local offline get-togethers of Zaadzsters (our members call them "Zaanghas" loosely tied to the Buddhist idea of a Sangha, or spiritual community). It’s a great opportunity to meet other cool people. And it’s amazing to sit down with a group of "strangers" and be in a deep conversation within minutes.
Explain the process involved in joining Zaadz. How can people join?
BJ: It’s really easy to join. Cruise on over to Zaadz. Click on the "join now" link and tell us a bit about who you are/why you’re excited to join zaadz and we’ll get you an invite within 24 hours!
We put up this little gate to simply make the intention of our site absolutely explicit. Again, we’re committed to creating an oasis and our members are thrilled to know that everyone in our community shares the same intention: to live life more fully in love, growth, service, creativity and fun.